The thug-ification of Trayvon Martin: Smear campaign distracts from the case

OPINION - The spin has begun in the media to muddy the waters and place blame on the teenage victim Trayvon Martin...

The victim-blaming machine that is normally reserved for high profile rape cases has reared its head in the case of Trayvon Martin. The spin has begun in the media to muddy the waters and place blame on the teenage victim Trayvon Martin.

What’s the best way to spin the February 26th killing of the unarmed skittle carrying hoodie wearing Trayvon into a “justified” or at least “explainable” shooting? Imply that the late teen is just another thug who was somehow deserving of his fate.

This is the thug-ification of Trayvon Martin. It is a strategic manipulation of public perception with the purpose of turning Trayvon into a stereotypical black male predisposed to criminal behavior. The purpose is to spin the public outcry that followed as overreactions or as a rush to judgment.

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The conservative site The Daily Caller published what is supposedly Trayvon Martin’s Twitter feed with an accompanying photograph describing Trayvon as “gold-toothed.”

Also circulating the web are unauthenticated photographs of a young black teenager said to be Trayvon, shirtless, pants sagging, and throwing up gang signs. This photo is coupled with another picture of George Zimmerman where he is smiling and in a suit. By posting these questionably sourced pictures of Martin, which depict him as stereotypical black male thug, it makes it much easier to believe that the kid with the skittles might actually be suspicious somehow, validating Zimmerman’s racial bias.

Commenters over at, not to be outdone, described Trayvon as a “thug” and “another black punk who got what he deserved.” Apparently, according to those who wish to stereotype Travyon Martin, the punishment for being male, brown and imperfect is death.

There are also reports circulating that Trayvon might have been suspected of stealing jewelry in the past (although police could not find any evidence of this during their investigation) and that Trayvon had recently been suspended from school for having what was thought to be an empty bag of marijuana. Both of these stories about Trayvon are irrelevant to the question of whether George Zimmerman should be punished for his killing.

The new media spin will attempt to portray Zimmerman as a do-gooder neighborhood watchman, with no racial biases and black friends, who was attacked for no reason by dangerous thug Trayvon while he was just doing his job of patrolling his gated community with a nine millimeter.

The thug-ification of Trayvon Martin is meant to distract the public from the core issue in this case. Trayvon is dead from a gunshot wound to the chest. We know the shooter is George Zimmerman. In the United States, you cannot shoot people dead and go home without even being properly questioned about the circumstances of that shooting.

That is the reason for the public outcry. It is not because they know what happened here. No one knows exactly what happened. What we have in this case is a set of conflicting facts, eye witness accounts, and physical evidence compiled by a police department in Sanford that has lost the public trust. Our system of justice has a process for this type of thing. Where probable cause exists — as it does here — law enforcement is supposed to arrest the suspect and begin investigating; the legal system is supposed to run its course.

And no campaign to smear Trayvon Martin should derail this process.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell